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El Chalan, Old-School Peruvian at 19th & I Street - Downtown near Farragut West


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OK then - who would be up for Sodere on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving - the 22nd?

If I'm in town, I'm interested too.

Also: how does the ambiance of El Chalan compare with Costa Verde at Ballston? I like Costa Verde a lot, but the interior leaves me feeling kind of cold. I think the ceviche at Costa Verde is a great deal (or was, as I haven't been in about a year).

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...how does the ambiance of El Chalan compare with Costa Verde at Ballston?

I haven't been to Costa Verde, but I can tell you about El Chalan. It's in an old brownstone in Farragut West, and it's essentially in the basement, halfway below ground. I wouldn't call it shabby, but it's clearly showing it's age. They've been there for 30 years. Small space, minimally decorated white walls and (low) ceilings.

Very nice menu, though; I've never had a miss there, and the service is reserved and professional.

You find a lot of World Bank crew dining at lunch time; I've never seen a crowd there for dinner.

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Interesting that after eight of us went to El Chalan for dinner last Thursday, not a one has posted a review. That should tell you something.

The muse hasn't inspired me, yet, either, but I'll give it a shot.

If I were in the area, and a friend said, "hey, let's go to El Chalan!" I wouldn't say no. Nor would I hoof it downtown from Culinary Wasteland (aka Potomac) just for the experience. It's not bad, it's not fantastic. It's just kind of quietly good.

The pisco sour was a bit of a disappointment - for $8 I'd'a liked more pisco and less sour mix. :) That's a pet peeve, actually. Why would any self-respecting bar need "sour mix"? What, can't get fresh lemon juice?

Anyway, the food was mostly tasty and reasonably well-executed. My appetizer, fried balls of potato stuffed with beef and egg, was perhaps a bit bland, but was perfectly fried: not at all greasy, no off-taste from old oil (I rarely order fried food for this reason). Mr P's boiled potato in creamy cheese sauce was much better than it sounds, with a piquancy I couldn't place.

I think two people ordered cabrito norteno , goat stew served with rice and beans. This was probably the best dish I sampled but then, I really love goat, the moreso because I don't get to eat it very often. Mr P and I both ordered aji de gallina a la arequepina (shredded chicken cooked in creamy garlic, onion, and peanut sauce). This dish was a little sweet and rather starchy, rather more comfort-food-like than palate-challenging - not that there's anything wrong with that, but it was so rich neither of us could finish ours.

I'll leave it to the rest of the gang to describe their dishes.

The arroz con leche and flan were both good solid renditions of Latin American classics.

The restaurant sits half a story underground, and in a small space, but with dark wood tables and white linens and walls, managed to feel cozy rather than cramped. And it was clean , no small feat for a restaurant that's been around for - what, fifteen years? It didn't have that old, tired, dingy look, nor did it smell of decades of cigarette smoke and booze.

So yeah, worth going to once just because it's a little different.

Time for the rest of youse guys to chime in. :o

Edited by porcupine
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Interesting that after eight of us went to El Chalan for dinner last Thursday, not a one has posted a review.  That should tell you something.

I think that's exactly the point. For a twenty dollar Tuesday, we spent $45 per person. The food wasn't bad by any means, but I feel like the money was well spent for the company rather than the food.

I started with the Fish Broth Soup which had a nice acidic kick and to its credit had plenty of chunks of non-descript fish, but was maybe a bit TOO fishy. You know how they say that seafood should not taste fishy but taste of the sea? This soup was definitely on the fishy side.

I probably liked the other appetizer you mentioned a little more than you (fried balls of potato stuffed with beef and egg), but you are spot on when saying it could've used a bit more salt.

As for my entree - their version of a paella - I am still kicking myself for not ordering the goat stew. The paella was not their best dish. It was certainly filling and was generous in portion, but I couldn't help but think they were using their extra seafood to make this dish.

Unfortunately for me, I was too stuffed to try dessert which most of the people at the table seemed to think was pleasant enough.

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I don't have a lot to add here, other than I thought it was a better bargain. We may have spent $45/person, but that included 1-2 drinks/person, appetizers, entrees, dessert, and coffee.

If you'd have held it to an entree (or two appetizers) and a soft drink, you could get out for $20, even including tax and tip.

My pisco sour tasted pretty strongly of pisco, so I guess the lesson is that the bartender is inconsistent. I agree somewhat with Larry on the paella - it was good, and the seafood was reasonably fresh, but the tastes of other dishes that I had were much better. The bite of goat stew I apprpriated from mdt was wonderful.

Like porcupine said, if I was in the area, I would definitely go there again, but it's not really a special destination place to travel from the burbs.

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When you get lunch takeout at El Chalan, they give you a bag of that awesome, sweet, spongey bread they have and a little cup of the spicy sauce. I like that. <_< The experiance of filling up on bread has been exported to the workplace. The shredded chicken with peanut sauce is tasty as I remember (from the taste I had at the dinner!). Must be a full dinner portion, too!

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Just had lunch at El Chalan - had intended to eat at Kaz but the wait was too long. Scored a table with a direct view of the Holland-Ivory COast game and still managed to misss all 3 goals!!

Had the goat stew - very, very tasty. Would recommend. Also had a mouthful of a friends ceviche....thought that was good as well.

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I had lunch at El Chalan yesterday. I think the bread is kind of mediocre, but who cares when it's slathered with that bewitching sauce? I had the ceviche mixto, which was a lovely large heaping plate of fish and squid, with one mussel and one shrimp -- which was fine, because the fish and squid are better than the mussel and shrimp. Listed as an appetizer, but more than enough for one person for lunch. But good god the place is noisy.

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Has anyone been to El Chalan lately and have any recommended dishes? It was recommended as best Peruvian by my friend's cab driver one night, and we're headed there tonight to try it out.

Stick with the classic lomo saltado or the cabrito. On my most recent visit to El Chalan, these were the only dishes we ordered that were close to authentic "costeña" Peruvian food. Do not get the aji de gallina - the sauce had the right consistency but was bland, not spicy as it should be.

If you are looking for ceviche, in DC or NOVA, you have to go to Terra e Mare on Rt. 50 in Falls Church - a proper ceviche with choclo and yams, and of course an absolutely delicious leche de tigre.

I do not consider El Chalan the best Peruvian food around, but it is probably the best Peruvian food in a restaurant that doesn't have a TV on playing Telemundo.

(Hopefully this will be moved to the correct El Chalan thread!)

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Thanks Manguito. I received this after dinner so actually did order the aji de gallina (shredded chicken with peanut sauce), which I agree was a bit bland, though I wasn't expecting it to be spicy. I also got to try my friends' lomo saltado and cabrito norteno (goat stew), both of which were quite good. Speaking of spicy, I loved the dip that came with the bread, but I'm glad one of my friends tried it first and warned me about how spicy it was so I didn't slather it liberally on the bread! Four of us split the appetizer of fried mashed potatoes stuffed with beef and olives, which was delicious and not greasy or heavy (at least split four ways). The ceviche tasted very fresh and bright, and was a good-sized portion. We started the meal with the pisco sours, which I loved though have never had before for comparison. They were served in short, narrow glasses, and the creamy foam was topped with nutmeg. It was an elegant start to the meal, and a nice segue from a long work day.

The service was both efficient and gracious. For example, after the first appetizer a server brought us new plates for the ceviche. Little touches like that go a long way. (Also, we'd checked before ordering the ceviche de pescado that it didn't include any shellfish. When a server brought us a plate with at least a shrimp sitting on top and we were about to inquire, our main server swooped in and removed it, to replace it with the correct dish. As usual, the quick correction made more of an impression than the initial mistake.) Also, the atmosphere, though not plush to say the least, was warmer and more comfortable than I expected. In general, I wouldn't say the food was outstanding, but the meal was a big hit.

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I hadn't been to El Chalan in forever, but I got a carryout order of Cabrito Norteno ($15.95), traditional goat stew cooked in beer, vinegar, onion, and spices, served with beans and rice. As much as I want to love El Chalan, and as good as this dish sounded (it especially sounded like something that would carry out well), there was almost nothing about it that I liked. The goat was extremely tough (under-braised?) and dry (not covered?), and while it had a good flavor, you needed a power knife to get it off the bone and tendons, and it just wasn't worth it. The beans were just plain bad - though I have no idea how they made them, they were super-mushy (not a problem) and had at least a partial taste of canned baked beans (a problem). The rice was okay, and had some of the stew-meat juices mixed into it.

I've had better food than this at El Chalan, and will certainly try it again in the future. The staff was very nice, and this is an establishment that I want to support.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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Anyone been here in the past two years? Trying to decide on a lower/medium priced lunch spot for a casual meeting next week and seems to be either this or breadline. Rock's goat fiasco two years ago doesn't bode well but there some other better reviews just before that. Much has changed in two years generally but, with El Chalan? thank you!

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It's been a couple of years since I've been there, but I've been going on and off for almost 25 years, and I can tell you that through the ups and downs, they still have the best ceviche in town. So you can always just get a double order of that for lunch. B)

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Most importantly, we went with a native Peruvian and she said that it was the first Peruvian restaurant that she has been to in DC that tasted of home.  For the record, she has been to Ocapa on H under the opening chef and liked it, and went to China Chilcano and thought it was terrible, like openly mocked it (although this was before the Ocapa chef joined the China Chilcano team).  

I'd be curious to know what she thinks about the (35-year-old!) El Chalan.

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In Rockville, we have two very good spots, about a mile apart.

La Canela is a beautiful dining room with a great Pisco cocktail list, gracious service, and classic Peruvian cuisine, including fabulous ceviche. We're semi-regulars here, and it's one of the best places to eat in the Rockville Town Square.

La Limena is very casual, and while the menu overlaps a great deal (and prices have creeped up in recent years), probably nearly half the patrons stick with the rotisserie chicken. A few Cuban dishes have migrated on to the menu, though I haven't tried them. When they first opened it was counter service and a steam table with just beer/wine, though these days they have moved to table service and have a full bar. Pastries/desserts here are great. It's in the strip mall Ritchie Center, which has an embarrassment of riches these days (Jumbo Jumbo for Taiwanese and Bubble Tea, El Mariachi for Mexican and other Latin, Superbowl Noodles, Pho 95, Yasaman Bakery, and a couple more I haven't gotten around to yet.)

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hmmm.  I could kick myself for never eating there even as I worked nearby for some of those decades they've been around; and I like pisco sours, (even w/crappy sour mix) let alone ceviche.  Think I'll get down there one of these days--just cause I should have been there.  

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I'm being taken here tomorrow for the first time.  What should I order?

The closest thing to a Meat and Three that you can find!

That, or carryout from Kaz. :lol:

In all seriousness, I'd like nothing better than to hear a good report on this restaurant. I last went several years ago, after having it ranked pretty highly and in Italic, but it really came across as fusty, old, weathered, and surpassed by numerous Peruvian restaurants in the area - I honestly think it may have, at one time, been the best Peruvian restaurant in DC, but that time has come and gone.

Please prove me wrong? This is one of those "I wanted to like it, but ...." places.

My guess - and it's just a guess based on outdated information - is that you won't dislike it, but you'll understand what I'm saying.

You know, there are plenty of excellent Peruvian cooks in the DC area, and who's to say that one of them hasn't started working here? El Chalan has a name, a reputation, and longevity, and all it takes is one talented cook who was looking for a job. That's why your review is going to be so important - discoveries *do* happen. (If it's good, get the name of the chef!)

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I had dinner here a couple of weeks ago.  Interior aesthetic, totally dated.  But the ceviche, at least that night, was the best I've ever had in DC.  The lomo saltado was dry that evening- not my favorite. The goat stew however was perfect and i'll go back for that dish alone.  Good pisco sours too.

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DanielK and CajunJason were basically right.  It didn't suck.  The ceviche mixto was excellent, though I didn't eat the accompanying corn and what looked like sweet potato (?).  My friend's arroz con mariscos looked sad and perfunctory.  But the goat stew was solid, though one or two pieces were dry.  

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